Death: December 5, 2021.
JOHN Miles, who died at the age of 72, was a singer and songwriter whose composition, Music, became a classic rock track, which traveled far beyond its 1970s roots. Written and recorded for his debut album, Rebel (1976), Music is a first-person ode to the redemptive power of his subject.
The lyrics of the music consist of just two stanzas of four lines sung two and a half times throughout the length of the song of just under six minutes. Miles’ words punctuate long instrumental passages that change speed and tempo repeatedly in a sketchbook of modern pop history that ranges from piano ballad to progressive soft rock and disco.
Accompanied by longtime bassist and co-writer Bob Marshall and drummer Barry Black, it’s fleshed out by orchestral flourishes from arranger Andrew Powell, as the song comes full circle to confirm the music’s transcendent strength.
Miles said he wrote Music in half an hour and was originally intended to form the basis of other songs before coming to life. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London with producer Alan Parsons, the epic result saw Melody Maker name Miles as “the brightest and freshest force in British rock”. The song itself has become representative of a certain British pre-punk current.
The music reached number three on the UK pop charts and was also a hit in Europe, reaching the top ten in Germany. In the Netherlands it went number one and was again a hit after a reissue in 1982. The song became the anthem of Night of the Proms, an annual pop and classical music extravaganza, founded in Antwerp in 1985 Miles performed at the premiere and attended almost every edition of the event that followed. Her ritualistic take on music, however, became the highlight of the Night of the Proms show.
Born John Errington in Jarrow, County Durham, he grew up in the nearby town of Hebburn. He started in bands as a teenager at Jarrow Grammar School and soon performed seven nights a week with bands such as The Urge and The Influence on what was then a thriving Tyneside pub and club circuit. in the 1960s.
Miles wasn’t the only one with a musical life beyond, with The Influence drummer Paul Thompson joining Roxy Music, while the band’s guitarist Vic Malcolm went on to have some success with Geordie.
Miles formed The John Miles Set before going solo in 1971. His first single was a version of Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff’s anti-war song Come Away Melinda (1972), originally performed by The Weavers and first recorded by Harry Belafonte and others.
He made his breakthrough three years later after signing to Decca Records, when he scored minor success with Highfly (1975). The song’s mix of sophisticated soft-rock arrangements and melodic bounce led by Miles’ high-pitched vocals encouraged Decca to back a full album of him.
Music’s worldwide success led to three more albums on Decca. Stranger in the City (1977), produced with Rupert Holmes, saw Miles score a top ten hit with Slowdown. Zaragon (1978), again produced by Holmes, took a more stripped-down approach. Parsons and Powell returned for More Miles Per Hour (1979).
After leaving Decca, Miles’ other albums include Sympathy (1980), Miles High (1981), Play On (1983) and Transition (1985).
Beyond his own work, his connection with Parsons saw him appear as a frequent guest singer on The Alan Parsons Project records. These included Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976), Pyramid (1978), Stereotomy (1985) and Gaudi (1987), as well as Freudiana (1990), the mainstay of the Glasgow-born group, the musical concept based on Freud d ‘Eric Woolfson.
Miles toured with Tina Turner from 1987, playing keyboards and guitar as well as backing vocals. He appeared on former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page’s album Outrider (1988), and in 1990 featured in the British Heat of A Song for Europe with Where I Belong, which came in second. He then played the Hammond organ on Joe Cocker’s album, Night Calls (1992).
Upfront (1993) was Miles’ first album in eight years, and the first without any Marshall involvement. In 1999 Parsons released Tom and Catherine, the soundtrack for a musical by playwright Tom Kelly about novelist Catherine Cookson and her husband, Tom Cookson.
In 2017, Miles won an award for musical excellence at the Progressive Music Awards.
When the 2020 Night of the Proms had to be canceled due to the first Covid 19-induced lockdown, Miles and more than 70 musicians from the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra recorded a performance from Music Online. With Miles at home, the orchestra performed its sections of Europe, following a click track to keep time. A video of the performance is on YouTube. Forty-four years after the original recording of the song by Miles, he recognized its continuing power.
“A lot of people just say this song is very uplifting both lyrically and musically,” he said in an interview at the time. “I still find it very uplifting when I play it myself now. You know the lyrics say, ‘In this troubled world, music helps me out.’ And I think music is a big emotional help to a lot of people.
He is survived by his wife Eileen, their son John Jr, their daughter Tanys and their two grandchildren.